On February 27, 2010 I was invited to attend the All American Girl Pageant in Marysville, WA. It was such an honor to be a judge for this wonderful program. It was an experience that I will never forget. The talent within all the young girls was truly breath taking. All the girls were filled with so much positive energy! Like the Ms. Wheelchair Washington Program, the All American Girl Pageant does not focus on beauty. Instead, the program focuses on poise, personality and stage presence. Aside from the contestants, I had the chance to meet a large number of caring women who are dedicated to enriching the lives of, not only the participants of the pageant, but people everywhere. These are definitely friendships that will help me to continue on my mission to advocate for people with disabilities. Thank you to everyone who made it possible for me to get involved with the All American Girl Pageant!
On March 3, 2010 I was invited to speak at a Kiwanna’s Club meeting in Kent, WA. I enjoyed this engaging group of people very much. They were indulged in everything I had to say and welcomed me with open arms. They are all so friendly and made me feel very comfortable from the start. When I finished talking, they all were still interested in learning more about what I stood for and who I am. I had a very nice time with the Kiwanna’s Club and would be happy to go back any day!
Up until now, I haven’t really bothered to talk much about my family, where I come from, or how I grew up. Well, I was born and raised in Anaheim, CA. My mother is Native American and Spaniard. My father is Mexican and Native American. I am unbelievably happy that I grew up in the Hispanic family culture! The Hispanic culture is such an authentic culture. I am blessed to be born into a culture with so many different values and ways of life.
The one thing that I absolutely adore about my culture is the strong sense and meaning of “family”! To us, family is the most important thing in the world! You only have one family. Nothing can ever change who your family members are. Family is the one thing that you have from the start to the end of your life. Sure we get mad, upsetand annoyed with each other. But there are always those special family barbeques , birthday parties, and surprise family reunions. No matter what happens, family is the only thing that will never go anywhere. There is no such thing as being alone with no family around you. In my family, you never leave your family for any reason. Whether we are your full blood family, half blood family, in-laws, step family (brothers, sisters etc.), adopted family, or close family friends… We are all still a FAMILY! No matter how big the family is, it is always your responsibility to make sure that they are all happy and have everything they need to survive, no matter what we have to sacrifice. I would never trade my family, culture and upbringing for anything on this earth! It is what formed me into who I am today. And today, when it comes down to it, I have absolutely nothing to complain about! I have been blessed with a family that can never be replaced!
I know for a fact, if it wasn’t for my family background and culture, I would not have the heart that I have. I have a heart to help people. Any place that I see I am able to do something to help, I’m there! No questions asked. Being Ms. Wheelchair Washington is giving me so many wonderful opportunities to lend a helping hand to a lot of different people. It may be just speaking motivational words. It may be just being in the same room. It may be just a phone call. It may be helping promoting or putting an event together. No matter what, I know I am contributing to changing someone’s life for the better. And that is what I live for!
Thank you to all who came out to support me and the HOPES Foundation last weekend at the Destiny Classic Festival. We had a tremendous outcome! We had wheelchair basketball games, food, music, games and vendors. I got the chance to meet so many people who showed me nothing but encouragement in everything I choose to embark on! So many people came out to learn more about the HOPES Foundation, how it originated and where it is going. We are doing big things! Together we can go as far as God will take us! I am so unbelievably blessed to be such a big part of the formation, promotion and management of the HOPES Foundation! If anyone wants to get more information about the HOPES Foundation, please go to www.hopesfoundation.org. Thank you to everyone who has shown any form of support for the HOPES Foundation! It is greatly appreciated my so many people!
Where to start… Where to start… Where to start? Well, I have always been very up tight about the men I choose to date. I am currently coming up on my one year anniversary with my boyfriend, Torrance. The thing that is cool about our relationship is the fact that we both utilize wheelchairs for our mobility on a daily basis. I was born with Spina Bifida and I am paralyzed from my knees down. My boyfriend had a snowboarding accident at the age of 14. He crashed into a tree and it left him having to depend on a power wheelchair for his mobility.
At the end of the day, when both of our situations tie into our relationship with each other, we have many advantages and challenges at the same time. One of the challenges that we’ve faced is accommodating two wheelchairs in a limited disabled sitting area. For example, we wanted to go to a long awaited night out together. We decided to catch a movie. The theater only had two spots for wheelchairs to sit within the selected disabled seating area. By the time we arrived, there was already one man who used a wheelchair in the designated area for wheelchairs. In order for us to be able to even sit near each other on our special night out, we had to figure out how to fit three wheelchairs into an area designated to fit only two wheelchairs. Luckily, the guy who was there before us was a very nice man and worked with us to figure out the best way to solve the problem. It took some creative thinking (that really should not have been necessary) but we were able to enjoy our movie together in the end.
Of course, with every challenge comes its advantage. One of the best advantages that I have in my relationship with Torrance is the fact that no matter what the situation is, I don’t have to be scared or embarrassed of any issue I face. Anything that comes up, I know Torrance will be there to support and encourage me though the obstacles. This isn’t just because he’s my boyfriend and I know he loves me. It is also because he knows exactly why I’m frustrated. He knows why I’m mad. Why I’m sad; why I’m confused; why I’m relieved, thankful, excited, accomplished or proud. Many times, even though I have other people that I know also love me, they don’t see what Torrance can see in me. But its not their fault. They don’t live with my challenges, so they can’t be expected to completely understand my emotions regarding them. Torrance has not experienced my exact challenges either but he has experienced some of the challenges that I have to a different degree. Therefore, he understands me and why I’m so happy that I finally figured out how to get the box off the top shelf.
I am so grateful that Torrance has come into my life! I am looking forward to the next year of our life together and all the new things it will bring! I LOVE YOU TORRANCE!!!!
The other thing that I’ve been thinking about is… My twin sister is pregnant! It is her first pregnancy and I am so excited to go through this process with her. I have gone to every docter’s appointment with her so far. I just found out, I’m going to be the baby’s Nina! For those of you that don’t know, in the Hispanic culture, a Nina is basically the same thing as God parents. Often times the Nina is a member of the family.
I have so much fun with my youngest niece now. I cant wait to have another baby around that I can develop my special bond with. I cant wait to be a Nina!
At the age of nine I was diagnosed with scoliosis. The docter said I had to have immediate surgery to fix the problem because it was leaning towards my heart. What started as a two week stay for one surgery, turned into a 6 month stay for 16 surgeries. The entire process left me on bed rest for 9 months once I was discharged from the hospital. I had to wear a back brace 24/7 for a year, every time I was not laying down flat. In the end, all the strength I had built up from my dad doing exercises with me since birth was gone. I had to start from the beginning.
I began physical therapy twice a week for strength and balance training. Because I worked so hard, as a kid, with my dad to get my physical independence, I couldn’t just give up. I was determined to get it back. It’s because of this time period that I developed a strong passion for working out, sports and staying healthy. I got into horseback riding, track n’ field, wheelchair basketball and weight lifting. I began to attend the JAWS camp on a regular basis. I now have participated in many three mile walks for a variety of different charities and organizations.
I have always loved strength training, working out and boxing. For the past year I have been working on so many different projects, that I found myself forgetting about my health and fitness. I started working with my best friend to open a disability gym. After a lot of ups and downs, the disability gym is on its way here. If I am going to represent this disability gym, I have to lead by example. As of June 1, 2010, I made a pact with my twin sister. We are both going to support each other in our missions to stay healthy. We are going to the gym together three days a week. Although its not a disability gym, with my sister’s help, I am able to get a very good work out into my system. At the same time, we have a good workout into my system. At the same time, my sister and I have a good reason to get together and hangout in the midst of everything we have going on in our own lives. We are getting back on track to a better life together, physically, emotionally and spiritually!!!!
While being in attendance at the Los Angeles Abilities Expo, I met many new fabulous people! I started going around the different booths because I wanted to find a booth that was selling hats. I approached the Jarah Ala Menn booth and began to converse with the founder of the company, Latrice Anderson. Before I knew it, I was looking at all her clothing products, meeting her family and exchanging numbers with her. I am so glad that I got the chance to meet Latrice! She is such a great woman who is going to high places! I look forward to doing further work with her to help promote her wonderful mission filled adaptive clothing business! Look out for my future work with Jarah Ala Menn Women’s Adaptive Clothing Line!
My first social site was www.myspace.com. It was weird because I didn’t even want to join MySpace. A friend made me a profile and I didn’t even use it for a good four months or so. Once I became active on MySpace, everything began to change! I had the desire to meet other people living with a disability. That is exactly what happened! I now have an account with, not only MySpace, but Facebook, Pushrim and Holdin’ out for a Hero.
I use my MySpace account mainly for family now. My Facebook account is the one that I use most frequently. Facebook has been absolutely wonderful for keeping up with my church family and all my advocacy for people living with disabilities. Pushrim is a fairly new social network that is aimed towards people who utilize wheelchairs and their families. This social network has been such a blessing to me in the way that I have been able to meet an enormous number of people, not only who face the same issues as myself, but have goals, visions and dreams for themselves. I have met people from all over the world who are doing a variety of things to advocate for people with disabilities. Everything from starting their own organizations, rap groups, comedy, students, broadcasters… Anything you can possibly think of is on Pushrim! I met up with an old friend because of Pushrim. If you haven’t already done so, please check out www.pushrim.com and make yourself a profile!
I heard about Holdin’ Out For a Hero through the Spina Bifida Association of Washington State. I am fairly new to the site and haven’t had the chance to explore it like I would like to. Holdin’ Out For a Hero is dedicated to people living with Spina Bifida. I look forward to continuing my membership with Holdin’ Out For a Hero. I think it is a wonderful idea to meet people who not only know what its like to live life sitting down, but have the same issues to face due to the onset of their disability.
In the end, I am a complete supporter of joining every social network that has a positive purpose behind it. If you join a social network with a negative purpose or no purpose at all, you will probably get a negative outcome. I have had nothing but success with the social networks I’ve choose to join. Sure I’ve had my share of awkward situations but when you have a mission to accomplish, you won’t let anything stop or distract you. I simply ignore the awkward situations and push forward in reaching for my goals, advocating for people with disabilities and encouraging everyone to live their lives with no limits. So always remember, life is what you make it! Its up to you to make your life worth living!
I can’t stop thinking about the Ms. Wheelchair America pageant! It’s on my mind all the time! I can’t wait to meet the other wonderful women out there that are doing something to advocate and prove that there are no limits as to what you can accomplish. All of us can go anywhere our hearts lead us to go with the support of each other! We have to continue to help each other physically, emotionally and spiritually. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a few of the other women representing their state’s with the Ms. Wheelchair title for this year! I can’t wait to meet and get to know everyone else! Let’s do it ladies!
As I reported before, I have gotten an incredible amount of support from everyone around me. I just wanted to thank one more person, Lee Ann Tuohy! I met Lee Ann at the All American Girl fundraiser for Sami Schubert a few weeks ago. She is a wonderful representative for Cookie Lee. She was helping Sami raise the funds to attend her national pageant to compete for the All American Girl by selling Cookie Lee products for her. We started talking and Lee Ann offered to do the same for me to raise the funds to get to the national competition to compete for the Ms. Wheelchair America title. We have everything straightened out and Lee Ann will be at Tacoma Christian Center selling her Cookie Lee products on May 30th and June 6th after both services. Come out and get some awesome new jewelry and help me get to the Ms. Wheelchair America pageant on August 8th in Grand Rapids, Michigan all at the same time! First service is at 9am; second service is at 11am. Thank you Lee Ann!!!
In order to get to all my speaking engagements and the Ms. Wheelchair America pageant, I have been doing a lot of fundraising. Thank you to everyone who has donated! It is greatly appreciated beyond what you could ever imagine! I would not be able to do it without you! Special thanks to my church family at Tacoma Christian Center! You all have helped me so much in every way! Thank you for supporting me and never leaving my side! Since joining this spirit filled chirch family, back in 2006, I have grown so much in my relationship with Christ, as well as my mental and phsical health. Thank you for everything Pastor Harris for leading and guiding me to a better life with my Lord Jesus Christ! There is truly no one eI love my church family so much! I don't know where I would be without you Tacoma Christian Center! I consider myself extremely blessed to have found you.
On May 12, 2010 I went to an All American Girl fundraiser for Sami Schubert. Just like I am working to raise money to get to my national competition to compete for Ms. Wheelchair America 2010, she is trying to raise money to get to her national competition to compete for All American Girl 2010. There was a Cookie Lee representative there selling jewelry to benefit Sami’s fundraising efforts. Everyone there had an awesome time! It was so much fun! I was able to get some great pieces of Cookie Lee jewelry to wear at my national competition! I want to say “thank you” to Beth , Sami’s mom, for not only inviting me to attend this fundraiser but helping me get there as well. Good luck Sami!
As luck would have it, we looked at our room and it was not the accessible room that we had requested and reserved. We could not even fit into the door of the bathroom! We kept talking and realized the only accessible room they had was already taken. It would not be available for another four days. They tried to work with us the best that they could and offered us a bigger room for the same price. With the new room, we could at least get into the bathroom and use the toilet and sink, but the layout and size of the bathroom made it impossible for my boyfriend or myself to use the shower. At that point, there was nothing else left that we could do to better our situations. So we just accepted it and went to bed.
For four days we had to brainstorm ways to shower. Instead of having a van to enjoy our vacation time together, we had to find ways to get where we needed to go. I had responsibility to attend the Abilities Expo and Ms. Wheelchair California pageant. My boyfriend and I rolled through West L.A. for 45 minutes each way to get to and from the Expo. My brother drove on his days off from Whittier to Los Angeles to take us to the Expo. Then he traveled back to Santa Ana to take the van back that we could not use.
After Torrance and I met with Tammy (Ms. Wheelchair Washington Program Coordinator) and Meg (Ms. Wheelchair Washington 2008), we all got together to confront the company that wouldn’t give us a refund. After some explanation, we were completely reimbursed for the van within a couple of days. Even though we got our money back, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the complication from the van took away from our planned time away from home. We did end up getting into the only accessible room the hotel had eventually. We were rolling around to Mac Aurther Park, the Convention Center and the local stores. We took the bus to Disneyland and the Subway to Hollywood! So it was still a great time together!
A lot of the time, people don’t think about how “little” things like wider doorways and hand controls can change things. We got through it, but when it comes down to it, we really should not have had to go through it. There is no reason as to why a hotel cannot have more than one accessible room. Or for an accessible car dealership to have more than just one van with hand controls. The only reason why is because the law only requires that they have one van with hand controls and one accessible room. Why cant the country raise their standards? Why can’t businesses start thinking more about pleasing those with disabilities, rather than meeting the very least regulations required by the government in order for them to continue making their money?
It’s situations like the one that I recently experienced that make me so passionate about being an advocate for people with disabilities. Things will never change unless we get more people who are willing to stand up and say something about the challenges we face. What may be difficult for you, does not have to be the same way for the next person. So why not, not only stand up for your rights as an American, but help your fellow “high roller” to not have to face the same struggles that you have faced?
I was born and raised in Southern California. While attending Magnolia High School, the only other person who utilized a wheelchair on our campus was my friend, Cherry Isaac. I lived right across the street from my High School, so my twin sister and I walked together to school together every morning. We often times passed the apartment of my friend, Leticia Arellano. I talked to her only on occasions. I moved out of state my Junior year of High School. Last year I made myself an account on pushrim.com, which is a social network, just like myspace, but is aimed towards people with disabilities. Shortly after, I received a message from someone saying that they remember me from High School. It was Leticia! We got the chance to reconnect and catch up! Turns out, just a few months after I moved away from California, she was in a car accident and is now paralyzed from the waist down. I started telling her about the Abilities Expo in Los Angeles and the Ms. Wheelchair America pageant that I was planning on attending. She showed up to the Ms. Wheelchair California pageant with her boyfriend to check it out and hang out! It was so awesome to see her again! Me boyfriend, Torrance, and I got to hang out with Leticia and her boyfriend at the pageant and Abilities Expo. It was a day of catching up that I will never forget! Nice seeing you again Leticia!
Just a quick update. There was a strong representation of people with disabilities at the Los Angeles Abilities Expo! Tammy, Meg, CathyLee, Torrance and myself, all flew into California for this extraordinary event. It was my second year attending the Expo, yet there was still so much that I had not seen. It was a one of a kind opportunity to reconnect with all of my “high roller” friends from around the country! Some of the people I reconnected with include: Aaron Fotheringham, Christiaan Bailey, Erika Bogan, Rudy Fibres and Richard Bell! Thank you to all of the hard working people who are so dedicated to putting such a ground breaking event together every year for people with disabilities!
In 2000, I was moving to Seattle from Miami, and I was researching disability organizations in Washington, and stumbled upon the Ms. Wheelchair America website. I saw that in 1996, Ms. Wheelchair Washington had gone on to become Ms. Wheelchair America, her name is Elaine Stefanowicz. I thought since I was moving to Washington, I would try and get in contact with her since I was moving to Seattle not knowing any other women in wheelchairs. In the last 17 years since I have been in a wheelchair, I have always found it so important to have women friends that are in wheelchairs, not only just for the camaraderie, but for support and friendship.
So after I got to Seattle, I tried to get in contact with Elaine, but I had the wrong contact information, and it wasn’t until 5 years later that our paths finally crossed. I was so excited to finally meet her in person because she was a Ms. Wheelchair America, and just reading about her she seemed like a great person. I happen to be at an event she was at and she was recruiting contestants for the 2006 Ms. Wheelchair Washington Pageant, and when she told me about it, I didn’t even hesitant, and said where do I sign up?
When it came time for the 2006 Ms. Wheelchair Washington pageant to happen, two other contestants dropped out at the last minute, so I had the option to enter as an Independent Delegate. Since the pageant got canceled, I decided to still apply as a Independent Delegate, knowing that the next year I would become the State Coordinator. I sent my application into the National Ms. Wheelchair America Program, along with letters of recommendation, and then I was accepted as the 2006 Ms. Wheelchair Washington. I spent my year focusing on the importance of volunteering, and traveling around Washington state doing appearances, and advocating on behalf of the people with disabilities in Washington. I met so many incredible people, made a lot of connections, and it was such an honor to be Ms. Wheelchair Washington 2006.
Although , I did not win the title of Ms. Wheelchair America that year, to me it was just an honor to have the experience of meeting such amazing women with disabilities from all over the country. The week that I spent at the Ms. Wheelchair America pageant, truly was one of the best weeks of my life. I believe that everything happens for a reason, and although the pageant at the State level was canceled, if it had not been canceled, then I would not have had to be an Independent Delegate, and I wouldn’t have gone on to become the State Coordinator for the Ms. Wheelchair Washington Pageant. So, as my year as the titleholder came to an end, I held my first state pageant. I was new to coordinating the event and recruiting contestants, but I pulled it off, and I handed the title over to Sigrid Laegried, who became Ms. Wheelchair Washington 2007.
Since then, I have successfully held 4 pageants, and each year recruited more and more contestants. Although, I know many women with disabilities in Washington State, all of the contestants who have been in the past 3 pageants I didn’t know many of these women personally. In the past four years, I have had the opportunity to meet more women in Washington State with disabilities by being the State Coordinator, and I have created friendships with all of the contestants. It has been such an honor to be able to meet these ladies that I maybe would have never have met and learn about them, and learn from them.
Each titleholder of the pageants have become great friends of mine, and even now the year I spent with Sigrid Laegreid (2007), Meg Paulsen (2008), Jannette Saxton (2009) and now Krystal Monteros (the 2010 Ms. Wheelchair Washington), I know these women are going to be life long friends. I really enjoy being a mentor to all of the Ms. Wheelchair Washington’s and I do whatever I can to assist them on their journey through their year. I feel truly blessed to be the State Coordinator and bring more awareness to the Ms. Wheelchair Washington program, as well as the Ms. Wheelchair America Program. I will always remember my year as Ms. Wheelchair Washington 2006, but I will never forget the incredible friendships I am making as the year's continue, and I plan on being the State Coordinator as long as possible.
The Ms. Wheelchair America Pageant to me, is actually more like a program to bring awareness not just to women with disabilities, but to all people with disabilities. It opens up a lot of doors for women with disabilities, and each contestant over the last 30 plus years, I am sure has benefited from being a Ms. Wheelchair for their state. I have been inspired by many of the contestants locally, and nationally, and I am excited to see what the future holds, because it is a world of opportunity for women in wheelchairs.
So to all of the Ms. Wheelchair Washington's: As each day goes on in my daily life and no matter how bad things may get, I think of all these wonderful women who have been brought into my life over the past 4 years and I am truly blessed!,
So thank you for being my sitting sista's
Your State Coordinator